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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:14 pm 
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J.K. Rowling's books seem to demonstrate to me that she is very widely read. There are small references in all of the 'Harry Potters' which bring to mind children's books I read as a child (we are a similar age): Tim and the Hidden People, Shelia McCullough to name but one series.

Rowling's ideas are original but some common underlying themes seem to be similar. For example there are 'muggles' (although this word isn't used) and then a secret, magic world of 'hidden people' in this series. Tim, the hero, has 'magic' powers due to his association with the hidden 'magic' world & through him in a tense, angry moment a 'non-magic person' (what Rowling might deem a 'muggle) floats to the ceiling in the kitchen and narrowly misses floating away through a kitchen window. There are winged horses in the magic kingdom, a tall, dark villain complete with Hogwarts-like castle and cape and much more besides. Tim even looks like Harry. He's an orphan, living in a tiny attic room at the top of a house, treated with indifference and benign neglect by his Aunt. He's an outsider at first. There's even a bus that he travels on at night which is driven very recklessly - it's invisible to those in the 'real' world. Tim ends up falling out when the magic wears off. Tim rides on a broomstick with a talking cat, Tobias. There's an unpleasant bully who lives very close who generally makes Tim's life difficult. There are other 'witch genre' type stories which have similar themes, Worst Witch springs to mind.

There's also a scene - I think in Milly Molly Mandy? Where a phone box travels down through a pavement? Someone might correct me if I'm wrong.

A wider point would be that Rowling seems very well educated to me - knowledge of Greek/Latin? Is it me or are there 'in jokes' about the various characters names too? Umbridge - was someone famous I think & using the name in the context she does is funny/clever (I forget who - perhaps a character?) and the below has always struck me:


William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825[1] – 29 September 1902) was a Scottish weaver, doggerel poet and actor. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of or concern for his peers' opinions of his work.
He wrote some 200 poems, including the infamous "Tay Bridge Disaster", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in British history.

McGonagall has been acclaimed as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms of his poetry are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. In the hands of lesser artists, this might generate merely dull, uninspiring verse. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings generate. The inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most spontaneously amusing comic poetry in the English language.

It is as if Rowling has used so much of everything she's ever read & mixed it all up together to create Harry Potter & there's nothing wrong with that :) I just wondered if anyone else had thought similar?

I also wonder if more general knowledge/classics etc would have been taught to Rowling at school that has largely disappeared from the curriculum now? Will future literature suffer because children are now generally much less widely read?

That reminds me of the lady who one Who Wants to Be A Millionaire - Judith (?) - everyone said how brilliant she was when really she reminded me of many of my mother's generation who had been taught 'knowledge', Latin, some Greek, classical mythology and literature etc. This seemed to me (on a very brief glimpse) to be her real skill. Is this knowledge going to largely die out and be valued less and less in time?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:28 pm 
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My children are very widely read. They all love reading and are constantly doing so. I am in my forties and I don't remember my school recommending any type of reading books or supplying any, until about Year 8 when we read the Merchant of Venice and then of course the books and poetry we read for our English Literature exams. My sons however, have to do a book review every half term and are given lists of recommended reading material.

My parents took us to the library every week and we would spend ages, and I mean ages looking through the books and deciding upon which ones to take home. I still to this day have a great love of books and cannot walk past a book shop without going in to have a browse. I am very glad I have passed this love on to my children. As you suggested Cranleigh it is so beneficial. How wonderful to get lost in a book and let your imagination flow. Not to mention the benefits to spelling, grammar and vocabulary.


Last edited by Fran17 on Thu Jun 14, 2012 7:25 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:48 pm 
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Older people have often said to me 'we had nothing when we grew up, but we had everything because we had a book'. For some a trip to the library was almost a religious experience and incredibly valued. Like you I have a huge love of books and reading which sprang not from family influence but through boredom. One afternoon I found a cupboard in my Grandmother's sitting room, in it were books. Only a few, most were my Aunt's and very dated but I read them and re-read them until I knew them like friends.

If I was born now I doubt any of that would have happened. I'd have sat in front of the TV and I doubt anyone would stop me and encourage me to read instead. I'd have thought reading was dull I fear and not as 'fast moving' as the screen time I knew.

Do we value books and education less than we ever did? Teachers do a great deal to encourage a love of reading but too many primary teachers IMO seem very unfamiliar with all but the most recent children's authors. A passionate teacher (for my children) who lives and breathes books would be beyond my wildest dreams.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:58 pm 
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I know JK came to Hereford and studied the Mappa Mundi which has lots of the magical creatures on it and I think she researched in the chained library there too. I didn't realise how many of the things in the books are based on real history and legend and how big a role magic and spells played in the past. I think the books ring true because of the research she did and the particular words and character names. I haven't heard of that Tim book but I would like to read it...sounds like it might have been one that influenced her by the sound of it.

I too spent a long time choosing books in our library when I was little and it was quite a long walk to get there. I still love books and bookshops and my son seems to have inherited that so we still enjoy reading together even though he is 11 now.

Cranleigh I enjoyed your post, thanks.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 3:04 pm 
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Also, Eva Ibbotson's Platform 13. Platform 13 3/4 is supposed to be an homage to that book.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 3:11 pm 
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There are some teachers who don't read aloud to the class... :( it used to upset me that a Y1/2 teacher my DCs had once didn't do this. She also kept horrible, tatty, ancient and very boring scheme books which she gave the children to read and bring home. YUK!

Other teachers though, know and love books and this always endears them to me. The exciting and moving class reader is a thing to be cherished and should not be pushed out of the day by pressures to get through curriculum. Listening to a well read story is such a pleasure.

I adore childrens books and buy a few outstanding picture books a year even now although my children are older. I call it "research" because my eldest is considering illustration for a career but really I just can't resist! I still almost blub every time I read Dogger by Shirley Highes.

on that note..has anyone seen "Warhorse" movie yet?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 3:27 pm 
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Wow, I had no idea quite how well read Rowling was (taking a look now): Dickens, The Illiad (read at 19), Chaucer, Austen, Mitford etc, etc.

She seems to be interested in small details and the way various writers handle themes, plot twists etc.

They say the best readers in the class are always the best writers.

I am a great believer that children can vastly increase their intellect and writing ability and exposure to & a love of books is vitally important IMO.

The best writer I've ever known was a friend of mine who was at boarding school in India until she was 11. There was a policy that every children's classic novel had to be read by the children in the school & they had to be very familiar with it. She also knew Latin. Can you imagine that happening in the UK, now?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 3:33 pm 
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I have found my DS's teachers to be very supportive when it comes to reading. At primary school the children were encouraged to tell the whole class about the book/books they were reading and once again given lists of recommended reading. They had a great school library and each class visited every week to choose new books to read. They were encouraged to read the classics, including Dickens. I would say the children I know are all quite well read.

At their senior schools parents were supplied with lists of recommended, age appropriate reading material and encouraged to support the school in their endeavour to get the pupils to read more. Sorry to say it but I have only read the first J.K. Rowling Harry Potter book (can't remember the title) it didn't inspire me to read the rest. :oops: I am sure this was down to a matter of personal taste rather than a lack of talent on Ms. Rowling's part. :lol:

I have a bookcase full of wonderful books for my sons to read, including the ones you have mentioned. I haven't got anything by Mitford though.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:20 pm 
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OOow Now you are getting me started on Rowling!

Last year I helped a friend's DC with his dissertation, which examines how Rowling takes ideas from myth and legend (which is fine as many people do) and also directly from the work of other authors (which is not so fine).
This filled a 20,000 word dissertation so I shall spare you on the post :!: Suffice to say that we found her very derivative indeed with very few original ideas in her work at all. e.g. the skeletal creatures that pull the Hogwarts carriages are taken from an early silent film by Georges Méliès.

But she is certainly well read and with a breadth of knowledge of Myth and legend - every magical object in the books can be found in a myth somewhere (e.g. horcruxes, though not under that name, come from the Arabian Nights)

:evil: because she used to pretend that she did come up with all these ideas completely by herself. Glad to see she seems to be giving a bit more credit to research now.

:evil: that people compare other Authors who came up with the original ideas to her as if the copying went the other way round! e.g. Jane Yolan, Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson (it's recent that Rowling acknowledges platform 9 3/4 a homage to platform 13), Susan Cooper’s Dark is rising sequence, Jill Murphy.
Neil Gaiman wrote a similarly themed set of books, when asked if he was miffed that Rowling may have copied him, he said he thought they were both stealing from T H White’s version of the Arthur/Merlin myth.

I am glad that people are drawn into reading by the Potter books, but (and I know this goes against the law :roll: ) I do not think she is actually a very good writer.
Her world would not function. Her writing is clumsy. She over describes things she has already told you about. Most of all, there are gaping plot holes in all the books.
Fair play to her though for still making a magnificent fortune. But I wish more children were aware of the quality books Rowling is drawing from.

Rant over. There is a theory that there are only 7 actual plots in fiction and everything is a variation of one of them.

Children's publishing tends to cycle. When I was young there was a lot of fantasy and historical fiction. This was followed by a period when publishers believed children wanted gritty realism. When Potter came along it was after a long gap with a dearth of fantasy- so they were pounced on by magic starved DCs.
Publishers then re-released their back catalogues of magical stories (from when I was a child) after they saw children were wanting that after all. I think we have a better mixture these days with publishers more aware that differing DCs want differing genres.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 16, 2012 4:27 pm 
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Phew aargh, I thought we were the only family that didn't appreciate her books. :D


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